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"Diablo 2 Expansion in-depth Assassin Guide"

Guide copyright Dan Hauck, July 17, 2001.  Free publication only.  Not for use
in any publication or media that is for sale.  Version 1.2.  Information in
this guide is provided as-is and without any gaurantees whatsoever.

(Version Reference)

0.9 - Preliminary version, begun 7-07-2001.

1.0 - Original version 7-17-2001.  Submitted to GameFAQs.

1.1 - Added a section "surviving in nightmare / hell as an Assassin."

1.2 - Added additional information to the "important combos".
      Updated "surviving in nightmare / hell as...".
      Update Death Sentry.

(Foreward)

This guide is _not_ a replacement for the other assassin guides out there,
I urge you to read them all in addition to this one.  

(General assassin information)

The assassin specializes in dealing damage in melee.  The raw amount of damage 
she can deal, her quick attacks, her versatility in damage type make her a 
viable character for soloing.  The difficulty in playing an assassin in solo 
is overcoming the defensive weakness by striking quickly and effectively.  In 
extreme cases, it may be necessary for her to soften up a group of opponents 
with multiple traps and mind blast castings before facing them in melee to 
finish them off.  

In parties, she should fight up front, but shouldn't be afraid to break the 
line and pull back to avoid being overwhelmed.  When a party faces an 
overwhelming group of monsters, the assassin is the most benefit if she pulls 
back, casts mind blast, lays multiple traps, and then heads back into the fray.  

(Starting as assassin character)

You should make some decisions early on about what type of assassin you wish
to play.  This will decide what types of martial arts and traps skills you
will be getting.  The three types would be the pure martial artist, the
generalist (martial artist + trapper), and the pure trapper.  All assassins
need shadow skills.  Decide this early because you will, depending on your 
choice, need to spend lots of points on certain skills.  Both martial arts
and traps have a high cost of entry, you generally should ignore them as much 
as possible unless you intend to build your character around it.

Pure martial artist:  You will have all the martial arts skills, and specialize
in one or two for "quick combos" when necessary.  This type is generally
versatile in damage type and well equipped for soloing.  The versatility
within martial arts allows you to attack your enemies vulnerable point 
(assuming he has one) and kill him quickly and efficiently.  This is important
in nightmare / hell where immunities will start to show up.

Generalist:  You will specialize partly in Cobra Strike on the martial arts 
end, and this will give you the mana to lay traps and cast mind blast 
repeatedly.  You may not have much skill in traps or mind blast, but repeated 
castings make up for that.

Trapper:  This type isn't recommended, the only trap that will help you in 
the higher levels is the Death Sentry and this isn't avaliable till level 30.  
I find that martial arts is vital - abandoning it altogether just does not
work.

(Foreword on skills)

There seem to be three different types of Assassin skills, and they should be
treated accordingly.

1) Skills that are great at level one, but increase too slowly to be useful
past this level.

2) Skills that should be ignored, unless they are necessary as a prerequisite.

3) Skills that are great, and increase enough to make raising them useful.

(Martial Arts Skills - Charge-up attacks)

Tiger Strike - This skill is great for the sheer amount of damage you can
do, even if only to a single opponent.  If you're going against many weaker
opponents and one or two stronger ones, charge on the weaker ones, then
off the stronger one with a single hit, repeating as necessary.  A useful
skill to specialize in, especially during the higher levels.

Cobra Strike - Useful for both life and mana regeneration.  This is your
primary way to regain mana quickly -- a must for using the different mana
intensive skills.  When in an intense combat, the type where you use potions
continuosly, charge up this to the max and then go to something else like
tiger strike.  When your life gets low, do your finisher, bringing your life
back to a comfortable level.  Budget your mana accordingly, if your life isn't
in danger switch to something like Tiger Strike.  This does not work well on 
certain types of undead (skeleton types mainly) so you may need to use the
dragon flight finishing move to get the proper type of opponent in some cases.
Still it's a good speciality that can, timed properly, save your life many
times.  A warning:  In 1.08 life / mana drain was nerfed, so you need _a lot_
of it, or you need to do a lot of damage, for it to be useful.

Fists of Fire - Not useful, but a prerequisite for the other elemental skills.  

Claws of Thunder - Specializing in this gives you a good one-two combination,
for single heavy damage, as well as area effects on two or three hits.  

Blades of Ice - If nothing else for the long freeze effect, this is useful at
either one level or a specialty.  The damage is not as important as the ability
to slow opponents -- allowing you can pull of other combos.  The range is 
limited.

Phoenix Strike - Do not put more than a point into it -- the chaos ice bolt
is a good effect but the intention is only to freeze enemies throughout the
screen, and you don't need more than a point for this effect.  It does allow
you to get three different elemental attacks for only a single skill point,
but specializing in this isn't recommended, since the best effect only needs
one and this more or less what you use.  

Notes:  Any character should get at least one level of Tiger Strike and Cobra
Strike.  As long as you will be using normal attacks, these are useful even
without finishing moves.  

(Martial arts skills - Finishing Moves)

Normal Attack - The normal attack can be used as a finishing move, for those
who use shields and don't wish to kick.  It is fast and uses no mana, but the
attack score is low compared to other finishers and charge-up moves.  

Dragon Talon - Not useful, but a prerequisite for Dragon Claw.

Dragon Claw - Useful, if nothing else it's a double attack, even without any
charges.  This lets you do weapon damage and get the effects of your weapons 
on the finisher rather than kick damage or effects.  But if you specialize in
Tiger Strike, you may want to go with kicks instead.

Dragon Tail - The ability to do area fire damage, possibly repeatedly, will 
help in cases that you are facing an enemy who is immune to physical attacks,
or many closely packed enemies.  Boosted with Tiger Strike, this kick can do 
heavy damage.  A possible specialization.

Dragon Flight - A high damage attack that can also be used solely for the
ability to teleport to a certain hostile monster that is otherwise blocked.  
This allows you to place your area attacks where they will be most effective,
for instance placing an area attack in the middle of a large group, or doing
a life-draining and/or high damage attack on a single enemy with lots of
life.  The long recovery time is the only major downside.  The kick damage 
increases quickly - specialize in this and you will have a kick that can do 
heavy damage.

Notes:  With one level in each, Dragon Tail is probably more useful because it
does nearly the same damage and has area affect.  All the kick skills are
quite useless without Tiger Strike.  If you want to use these, get just one
level and max out Tiger Strike before further increasing the kick skills.
Otherwise, use a normal attack or Dragon Claw to release charges.

(Shadow Skills)

Claw Mastery - The increase after one level isn't enough to justify any more
of this skill.  The damage rises too slowly, and your charge skills provide 
enough of an attack bonus anyways.  

Psychic Hammer - Useless to increase past level one.  The main effect is the
knockback, not the damage.  Use it to keep enemies near a trap, or to create
an escape route when fleeing.  

Burst of Speed - A must-have at level one, possibly a few more levels.

Cloak of Shadows - Duration is too short to be useful.

Weapon Block - Vital if you plan to use dual claw weapons, which are a 
prerequisite for Dragon Claw.  Stops being useful after level 6 or so.  If
you use kicks as finishers, use a shield instead.

Fade - One or two levels are very useful at times, especially in nightmare
or hell.

Shadow Warrior - One level is useful, but otherwise save your points for
Shadow Master.

Mind Blast - The damage isn't high, and the conversion chance doesn't rise
very quickly.  You're best off casting this spell multiple times in quick
sucession.  Cast it three times and for about 50 mana, easily replaced with
Cobra Strike, you can cause chaos regardless of how many enemies you face.
Some enemies have no brains, hence, they are immune to the conversion effects.

Venom - Get at least one level of this, specialize if you wish, but know that
while it's great for anything living, it doesn't work on certain types of
undead.  

Shadow Master - Okay spell, one of the better summons in the game.  It may not
be comparable to the druid's Grizzly Bear or the necromancer's Golem, but it
does have a great many skills.  You want at least one level in this, if nothing 
else.  

Notes:  Mind Blast is a real help when you fight large groups of closely packed
monsters.  When monsters are converted, other monsters turn to attack them,
occupying the group and leaving it open to area charge / finishing attacks.

(Traps)

Fire Blast - Laughable, but you need one level for a prerequisite.

Shock Web - Useless, but once again necessary as a prerequisite.

Blade Sentinel - May be useful at first, but useless at the higher levels,
I wouldn't follow this skill chain at all.

Charged Bolt Sentry - At level one, it will be moderately useful for the
first few acts.  

Wake of Fire - Good at first, but otherwise unnecesary.  This skill, or the
one that comes after it, does low damage at level 1 and would require too many
points to become useful.  You're better off ignoring this skill altogether.

Blade Fury - Useless, mana cost is too high at the higher levels, ignore this.

Lightning Sentry - Moderately useful at first, but largely just for show at
the later levels.  

Wake of Inferno - Better than Lightning Sentry in terms of doing damage, but
there's nothing after it and it does become useless itself at the much higher
levels.  If there was, say, a fireball trap after it this may be useful as
a prerequisite, but since there isn't I'd recommend staying away from this
whole skill chain.

Death Sentry - This is the "saving grace" of an otherwise rather useless skill
chain.  The ability to explode multiple corpses at a range and do area affect 
damage that increases with skill can really break up a large, crowded group of 
monsters.  Because it does damage related to the life of the corpse, it is 
extremely useful later on in nightmare and hell.  While it may take a short 
time to get the full effects out of this trap, you simply place one or two
on top of a few corpses and then watch the bodies pile up.  

Blade Shield - Useless, ignore this whole skill chain.

Notes:  Death Sentry is the only useful trap, but the cost of entry is 4 skill
points.  The prerequisites may be useful when you first get them, but quickly
become quite useless.  Still, if you plan on soloing, having death sentry on
nightmare and hell will save your life countless times.

(Different Finishing Moves - Which to use)

The simple way to find out is to show the damage screen while performing Tiger
Strike.  Notice how kicks generally start out lower than normal attack /
dragon claw damage, but also increase more.  Generally, with a high Tiger 
Strike, use kicks, otherwise use Dragon Claw.  Using a normal attack (due
to an inability to use Dragon Claw due to the use of a shield) is also
a viable option at first, but the lower attack rating then charge-up attacks
or kicks can pose problems later on.  Remember you can also use 'W' to switch
between different configurations, so if you actually find three good claw 
weapons your primary configuration can be the best and a shield, while the 
secondary are the two remaining and the skill dragon claw readied.

It appears that kicking monsters that can drain life by touching you is a bad
idea, this apparently triggers a drain life effect by them, making the net
amount of damage you do almost nil.  In this case, you should just use your
ordinary weapon attack (or dragon claw, if you have it?) to release
charges.

(Important Combos)

The most useful combo is Tiger-Cobra-Cobra-Cobra-Tiger-Tiger-Kick.  This should
generally take you up to full health and mana, at least in 1.08.

Phoenix Strike's (x3) effect tends to effect opponents at the edges of the
screen, so comboing it with a small radii area-effect makes sense.

Tiger-Tiger-Tiger-Phoenix-Phoenix-Phoenix-Tail.

Cold-Cold-Cold-Phoenix-Phoenix-Phoenix-Claw.

The order of your combos should be considered.  If you have to finish the combo
early, you want to maximimize the effect.  For instance say your health is
running low and you decide to pull off the Tiger-Cobra-Cobra-Cobra-Tiger-
Tiger-Kick combo.  Yet you find yourself on the verge of death when you're
only two moves into it.  In this case, finish the combo right there with
Dragon Tail to knockback any opponents, regaining a portion of your life
instantly.  The early dragon tail gives you a chance to back off and/or flee.

When fighting multiple monsters, use your venom (poison effects) and your 
finishing moves to the maximum extent.

The finishing move Dragon tail does kick damage to the enemy on the receiving 
end, and additional damage to all within the area.  Venom does damage over
time.  To maximize efficiency, use both these properties.  

If you are against two equally matched opponents, and you can kill one
outright with a dragon tail kick powered up with Tiger Strike, hit one thrice
with Tiger Strike charge attack, then dragon tail kick the other.  If your 
weapon does good damage, this should kill both because the weakened one will 
receive the area affect from your kick, while the other will receive the full
damage of the kick.  

If against a large group of monsters, charge by attacking a different monster 
with each charge attack.  This gives venom a chance to do it's job before
hitting all the weakened ones with an area affect.  

(Strategies)

A large amount of strategy when solo-ing involves who you choose as a 
follower.  

Get the offensive aura follower in act 2, for an aura that increases your 
attack rating.  In act three, get the sorceror with cold magic for his 
freezing ability.  By act 4 or 5, you should have the Death Sentry trap or
your own cold attacks, both Phoenix Strike and Blades of Ice.  At this point,
switch to a different type of mage, or get a new follower altogether.  The
barbarian follower in act 5 gives you a "tank" to hold off large numbers of
opponents while you cast your area mind blast spell or lay down traps.

The downside about having a follower is that it costs money to have to
resurrect the guy, especially if you or he ends up dying a lot.  While the
follower AI may be slightly improved, it is still rather dumb and he ends
up getting killed quite often once you get to nightmare.  The amount
of experience used by a follower can be significant, but this may not be
a major problem since they help you kill stuff faster to begin with.  With
your follower and your own shadow summon you have three characters on the
field -- basically your own mini-party.  

While mana potions may be generally useless, keep them and use them to make
rejuvination potions, which are quite useful at later levels and when facing
bosses (see the horadric cube formula guides).

As stated in the general info section, assassins have no real defense and
should be played accordingly.  +Life, Faster Hit Recovery, a good shield,
and the like items are useful.  Charm items are good to keep around if they
give a decent amount (+20 or more) bonus to your life or mana.  Otherwise
I find most of the effects useless for the inconvinience they cause.
When you are taking on monsters in melee, don't waste time with unnecesary
charges.  Tiger Strike is really the only charge you want to use all the
time.  Cobra Strike is great for when you need mana or are falling behind in
life, but otherwise pointless.  It's vital to "break up" large groups so
they're not attacking you all at once.  Do this with multiple castings of
mind blast, or by using followers + summons.

Overall, I find the versatile type works best.  Get Death Sentry, Mind Blast, 
Shadow Master, Tiger Strike, and Dragon Tail.  Use a few +mana items as 
necessary.  When you face a large group, let your summon engage the group 
while you stay back and cast a few Mind Blasts in quick sucession.  With the 
chaos that ensues, rush into the fray and take down two or three monsters with 
Dragon Tail.  By now your mind blast is probably near expiring so back
off and place some Death Sentry traps on top of the corpses.  If you have
the mana, you can cast another mental blast but it generally isn't necessary
at this point.  Just rush back in and finish off what is left while monsters
die left and right from the contantly exploding corpses.  

For bosses, place three diamonds in a socketed shield and use this in your
secondary weapon configuration.

Most Melee-type monsters can become occupied with a summon, follower, or by
attacking another converted monster.  Once they are "occupied" in this
fashion, they will generally keep doing what they have been doing until that
becomes and imposible, or if you make a direct melee against them.  A
generalist assassin can use this to her advantage when facing large numbers
of enemies by getting them to attack each other (Mind Blast) or waste their
time dealing with your expendable summon.  

(Skill Choice Templates)

These are templates, so you don't have to follow them _exactly_.  They're
provided to give an idea of the different ways you can build an assassin
character.

Pure Martial Artist:  Specialty in cold

Cold is the most reasonable elemental attack to specialize in, and it's great
for parties.  

level 2:             Claw Mastery (1)
den of evil bonus:   Tiger Strike (1)
level 3:             Dragon Talon (1)
level 4:             Psychic Hammer (1)
level 5:             (save)
level 6:             Burst of Speed (1), Dragon Claw (1)
level 7:             Fists of Fire (1)
level 8:             Burst of Speed (2)
level 9:             (save)
level 10:            (save)
level 11:            (save)
level 12:            Cloak of Shadows (1), Weapon Block (1), Cobra Strike (1)
level 13:            Weapon Block (2), Cobra Strike (2)
level 14:            Cobra Strike (3)
level 15:            Cobra Strike (4)
book of skill bonus: Cobra Strike (5)
level 16:            (save)
level 17:            (save)
level 18:            Claws of Thunder (1), Fade (1), Shadow Warrior (1)
level 19:            Fade (2)
level 20:            (save)
level 21:            (save)
level 22:            (save)
level 23:            (save)
level 24:            Blades of Ice (1), Mind Blast (1)
level 25:            Blades of Ice (2)
level 26:            Blades of Ice (3)
level 27:            Blades of Ice (4)
level 28:            Blades of Ice (5)
level 29:            Blades of Ice (6)
level 30:            Blades of Ice (7), Shadow Master (1), Venom (1), 
                     Phoenix Strike (1)
level 31:            Blades of Ice (8)
level 32:            Blades of Ice (9)
level 33:            Blades of Ice (10)
level 34:            Blades of Ice (11)
level 35:            Blades of Ice (12)
den of evil bonus:   Cobra Strike (6)
level 36:            Blades of Ice (13)
level 37:            Blades of Ice (14)
level 38:            Blades of Ice (15)
level 39:            Blades of Ice (16)
level 40:            Blades of Ice (17)
book of skill bonus: Cobra Strike (7)
level 41:            Blades of Ice (18)
level 42:            Blades of Ice (19)
level 43:            Blades of Ice (20)

- Maxed Blades of Ice freezes enemies for almost 12 seconds
- Secondary Specialty in Cobra Strike, to keep hp/mana at comfortable levels.
- Mind Blast to spend extra mana or hit large numbers when overwhelmed.
- Weak at lower levels
- Dependent on base attacks + weapons to do damage.
- Concentrate on raising Dex and Str, then Con.
- Use two claw weapons and Dragon Claw as a finisher.

Pure Martial Artist:  Specialty in dealing damage

The ability to deliver highly damaging kick attacks often is great, 
as is the freedom to go whatever direction you wish after level 27.

level 2:             Claw Mastery (1)
den of evil bonus:   Tiger Strike (1)
level 3:             Dragon Talon (1)
level 4:             Psychic Hammer (1)
level 5:             Tiger Strike (2)
level 6:             Burst of Speed (1)
level 7:             Burst of Speed (2)
level 8:             Tiger Strike (3)
level 9:             Tiger Strike (4)
level 10:            Tiger Strike (5)
level 11:            Tiger Strike (6)
level 12:            Cobra Strike (1)
book of skill bonus: Tiger Strike (7)
level 13:            Tiger Strike (8)
level 14:            Tiger Strike (9)
level 15:            Tiger Strike (10)
level 16:            Tiger Strike (11)
level 17:            Tiger Strike (12)
level 18:            Dragon Tail (1)
level 19:            Tiger Strike (13)
level 20:            Tiger Strike (14)
level 21:            Tiger Strike (15)
level 22:            Tiger Strike (16)
level 23:            Tiger Strike (17)
level 24:            Dragon Flight (1)
level 25:            Tiger Strike (18)
level 26:            Tiger Strike (19)
level 27:            Tiger Strike (20)
   :                    :

- Maxed Tiger Strike makes for mega-damage when kicking.
- Use a shield for blocking.
- Concentrate on raising Str, then Dex and Con.
- Cold Mage follower compliments nicely.
- Powerful martial arts area attacks with Dragon Tail, but nothing else to fall
  back on.
- After 27, you've maxed your speciality and can go any number of different
  directions (Max Dragon Tail, Get Venom, Get Mind Blast, Shadow Warrior /
  Master, Get the Death Sentry trap, Get Phoenix Strike, etc.)

Generalist:  No speciality

Versatile, but difficult to use to full potential since there is so much to
do / manage.

level 2:             Claw Mastery (1)
den of evil bonus:   Tiger Strike (1)
level 3:             Dragon Talon (1)
level 4:             Psychic Hammer (1)
level 5:             Tiger Strike (2)
level 6:             Burst of Speed (1)
level 7:             Shock Web (1)
level 8:             Burst of Speed (2)
level 9:             Tiger Strike (3)
level 10:            (save)
level 11:            (save)
level 12:            Cloak of Shadows (1), Cobra Strike (1), Charged Bolt 
                     Sentry (1)
level 13:            Tiger Strike (4)
level 14:            Tiger Strike (5)
level 15:            Tiger Strike (6)
book of skill bonus: (save)
level 16:            (save)
level 17:            (save)
level 18:            Claws of Thunder (1), Fade (1), Shadow Warrior (1),
                     Dragon Tail (1)
level 19:            Fade (2)
level 20:            Tiger Strike (7)
level 21:            Tiger Strike (8)
level 22:            (save)
level 23:            (save)
level 24:            Lightning Sentry (1), Dragon Flight (1), Mind Blast (1)
level 25:            Tiger Strike (9)
level 26:            Tiger Strike (10)
level 27:            Tiger Strike (11)
level 28:            (save)
level 29:            (save)
level 30:            Death Sentry (1), Shadow Master (1), Venom (1)

- Don't place more than 5 traps at a time, after that they start disappearing.
- Use a shield for blocking.
- Concentrate on raising Str and Dex, then Con.
- As necessary, use Cobra Strike in conjunction with Tiger Strike.
- Played properly, can be a real asset in parties.

(Act 5)

Kill diablo and get to act 5 ASAP, even if you have to party to do so (you
can still do the rest of act 4 alone).  While one pre-30 level assassin working 
alone may not be able to overcome diablo, even three assasins working together 
shouldn't have too much trouble.  Once you get to act 5, it is quite easy to 
get to level 38+, much better than having to stick around in Hell until you
can solo Diablo.

Have you noticed that when you "rescue" the barbarians in the second quest, 
they open TP's and go back home?  If they can open TP's on their own, to
teleport back home, are they really in need of a rescue?

(Surviving in nightmare and hell as an assassin)

With 1.08, nightmare and hell are even more difficult than before.  I'd
recommend level 45 (you can get here from normal act 5) before venturing
into Nightmare solo, and even here it'll be sad b'cos you won't get XP for
a good deal of act 1.  Act 1 and Act 2 should be do-able, with practice, but
act 3 is where the real difficult begins if you insist on soloing.

The monsters in nightmare are dangerous and fast, you really don't have a
whole lot of idle time to lay traps or anything.  

In act 1, Martial arts is great, and with Tiger Strike you can kill many 
opponents with a fully charged dragon tail.  If you are a kicker, max out 
your strength, the other abilities are of secondary importance.  Unlike normal 
mode, you need things like fade and burst of speed going continuosly, recast 
them often and keep your mana up by using Cobra Strike.

Toward the end of act 2, Mind Blast and the Death Sentry trap will become
useful simply due to the large numbers of enemies.  When you approach a large
group of enemies, don't just rush in, take the time to do it right (see the
strategy section).  

Act 3 is very difficult.  Those little buggers that move very fast can go
from the side of the screen to right next to you before you can get off the
mental blasts.  If you haven't started to party by now, you should really
find some friends who also play and party with them.  Otherwise, put a few
more levels into the Death Sentry trap or get a cold mage as a follower.  If
you expect to solo on act 3 without dying repeatedly, you should have a
generalist assassin with 400+ life, 150+ mana, and maxed tiger strike.

Act 4 isn't that bad.  Most monsters here are on the slow side, so with the
aid of mental blast you can engage and disengage from close combat at will.
So long as you don't get trapped, and fight a bit on the cautions side --
use venom strike when applicable to augment healing potions, this is really
not that bad.  If you can't outrun a group, use your summon and/or cast
mental blast to hold them occupied.  

(Contact Information)

E-mail:  dhauck(at)scudc.scu.edu.  (spam-proof:  change '(at)' to '@')

(Acknowledgements)

Blizzard, the best game software company based in the US.

Calvin Schneider, for his "Diablo 2 Expansion Pack skill guide and FAQ"
avaliable soon after the expansion pack came out.